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The Doctrine of Prayer

July 3, 2022

The Doctrine of Prayer

Passage: Psalm 34:1-18
Service Type:


We’ve been studying a few core doctrines of our faith this summer, and I don’t know what you all think, but for me it’s been an awesome study so far. I know you probably think that since I’m up here teaching this stuff that I kinda have some of these things figured out. But you need to know that studying these has really fine-tuned what I believe, and brought to light a lot of the areas where I fall away from them. 

Two weeks ago, Isaiah 6 took us into the throne room of this Almighty King, where we were confronted with his holy, holy, holiness and by contrast, the sinfulness of our own hearts, and introduced to marvelous, scandalous grace, where this God of holiness is seen moving toward sinners in love and mercy to take their sin away. 

Then last week, as I said, we looked at a lot of different scriptures that describe the Providence of God, which is the belief that God is not only able to do whatever he chooses to do anywhere at any time, that he actually does. It’s not like he created the world with all of its natural laws, environmental processes, etc, and then, like winding up an alarm clock, he twisted the knob and let the universe go do its own thing. We saw across those scriptures that He is actively involved in directing and upholding and sustaining all of nature and human history, directing things toward his glorious and loving purpose. 

Crab Nebula

Speaking of the universe, I am a sucker for pictures of stars. I’m just blown away by how other-wordly they can look, and how unfathomably huge they are. I read this week that 1000 years ago a supernova star so bright that you could see it in the daytime exploded. According to Nasa and Hubble websites, it’s actually not that far away from where we are sitting this morning – it's only 6500 light years away.  

If you don’t know what a light year is, let me explain. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. When you click on a flashlight, the light is going so fast that it would go around the earth 7 times in one second if nothing got in its way. A light year is how far you would be able to travel in 365 days if you were going that fast the whole time, which is just shy of 6 trillion miles. Then do that 6499 more times and you will arrive at the Crab Nebula. For reference, back in April of this year, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a star 28 billion light years away. Not even sure how that’s possible. So 6500 is pretty close. 

Anyway, this exploding star is now called the Crab Nebula, and the crazy thing is that 1000 years later, it’s still exploding. You would have to travel at 186,000 miles per second for only 10 years to get from one side to the other, however, as it explodes, this star is growing at a rate of 70 million miles every day (Starke, 11-12).   Since the band played the first note of the first song this morning, this star has grown a million miles wider.

Tonight or tomorrow night, you will probably pack up some blankets and a cooler to go watch fireworks…the best of which get shot about 250 feet into the air, exploding in the sky at about 700 ft wide. Meanwhile, 6500 light years above the oohs and ahhs of the crowd is the Crab Nebula, exploding at almost 3000 times the size of earth, Every. Single. Day. And it’s very likely that this is the first time you’ve ever heard of it. You have gone about your entire life ignoring the massiveness that is just above our heads, and that is just one of hundreds and hundreds of billions of stars much bigger, much further away, much more impressive that God created simply by saying “Let there be stars.”

The Crab Nebula is just a speck in the universe. We have lived our entire lives paying zero attention to it, or any other star except the Sun, and yet by the word of his power (Heb 1:3), God not only knows its name, but without any effort whatsoever, he created it, watches over it, manages it, and keeps it safely in its place 6500 light years away where its constant explosion and expansion doesn’t swallow up a tiny green planet called Earth. 

God is Great

So it makes sense that Psalm 34 would start off, “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise will always be on my lips. I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim the Lord’s greatness with me; let us exalt his name together.” 

We exalt him when we talk about his holiness, his providence over all the earth, his sovereignty, his direction of all things to his glorious purposes. The proud will be bored with God’s glory or frustrated that they didn’t play a bigger role in it, but the humble will hear and be glad that this universe isn’t left up to blind chance or survival of the fittest – that it’s all perfectly and lovingly under the control of a living God who only always and ever does what is good. 

God Answers Prayer???

But after all this talk about God’s greatness, his ability to breath the stars into existence and keep them in place by the word of his power, we read verse 4 – I sought the Lord AND HE ANSWERED ME. 

And you might think, yeah, he answered you with a shrug, like oh really – you want me to help you figure out which school to go this Fall; you want me to help your sister with her knee replacement surgery; you want me to help your 10 year old son win his 10U baseball game, have you seen them throw? – sorry, but I’m dealing with exploding stars over here. Come back to me when you have something interesting to ask me about. 

I’m guessing some of you are hesitant to pray because you imagine that’s what God thinks about your life. He shrugs. He has bigger fish to fry, you might say. He has starving children in Africa, why would he care about my life? 

But verse 5 says, no, that’s not how you come away from conversations with God. Those who look to him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. You’ve been in a situation before where you told someone something and they shrugged. You handed in your homework late at school, gave the teacher your excuse and she shrugged – don’t care, it’s still late. You don’t walk away from that with your face radiant with joy. 

So perhaps the biggest miracle of all is that the galaxy-breathing God doesn’t shrug at our lives. But then this should absolutely blow our minds, verse 6: This poor man cried, AND THE LORD HEARD HIM, and saved him from all his troubles. 

Are you kidding me? This sovereign, “robe fills the temple”, holy holy holy, all things for his purposes God, actually turns his attention away from exploding stars and turns his attention to us (Starke)… AND HE HEARS US, AND HE ANSWERS US, AND HE SAVES US FROM OUR TROUBLES!?!?!  1 Peter 5:7, cast your cares on him because he cares for you???  

And then you get to Jesus in Luke 11, and he says, “Call him Father.” WHAT!?!?! IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!? 


Prayer is the personal communication with the “robe-fills-the-temple”, star-breathing, providentially powerful God of heaven and earth. It’s mind-blowing. You are not only invited to pray, you are expected to pray. He wants it. Welcomes it. Encourages it. Almost begs us to pray. Even commands it. 


The question is WHY? Why does he want us to pray? 

Well it’s certainly not because he needs information. When someone texts me and says, “hey can you pray for us? We’re at the ER and getting tests taken,” they are not asking me, “hey can you let God know we’re here?” In Matthew 6:8, Jesus tells us, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” So it’s not about exchanging information. 

    1. It’s about trust. It’s about dependence. It’s about us agreeing with God over and over and over that we are poor and you are rich, and we are needy and you are not. We are weak, you are powerful. It’s about recalling his holiness and his providence over all things, trusting him, depending on him for everything we need.
      1. Trusting his goodness: It is not possible for God to do anything that is NOT good. It is not possible for him to even be TEMPTED to do what isn’t good. He is not like us, where we could go either way but we hopefully choose good. He only has one option, look at verse 8: Taste and see that the Lord is  GOOD.  
  • Trusting his provision: v9-10 He knows what you need before you ask, and when you seek him, trust him, honor him, you will not lack any good thing. 
  • Trusting his definition of good – v11 I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Do you want to live a long life enjoying what is good? Guard your mouth, and repent of sin, and pursue harmony with God and others.  
  • It’s about fellowship. God isn’t just hoping we ask him for things – he’s inviting us to know him. To love him as he loves us. To delight in him as he delights in us. To spend time with him, telling him about our struggles, thanking him for all he’s given, praising him for what he’s done in the past; and then listening for him to speak to us. 
    1. Listening is one of the areas I could stand to mature and grow in. More often than not, my prayers are one-sided. Me talking, God listening. So feel free to text me this week or next Sunday and say, hey, how well did you listen this week? 
    2. Fellowship requires Obedience – v 15 - the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, his ears are open to their cry for help. The face of the Lord is set against those who do evil… the righteous cry out and the Lord hears and rescues them. He is near the broken-hearted.
      1. This doesn’t mean God only answers your prayers if you are perfect and never sin. Otherwise, no prayers except Jesus’ would be heard. In a friendship or marriage or any other relationship you have, when one party offends the other, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. But it does put distance between the two. It puts a strain on that relationship. It’s no different with God. Disobedience and sin puts distance and strain on our prayers until we’ve repented and confessed. 
      2. V 18 – God hears the prayers of those who are broken-hearted by their own sin; repentant. If you are not repentant of your sin, God gives no guarantee that he will answer any of your prayers. 
  1. Probably the craziest one: It’s about participation in his rule over the world. God has decided that prayer would be one of the crucial parts of how his plan and purposes would be accomplished. Prayer is one of the ways we participate with him in the eternally important work of advancing the kingdom of heaven on earth (Grudem, 377). 
    1. James 4:2 tells that there are things we don’t have because we don’t ask. God apparently withholds things from us that we could have, if we had only prayed. 
    2. We talk about this often that sin doesn't make us bad, it makes us dead. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He responds to prayer by forgiving our sin. 


Any Prayer is made possible by Jesus

  1. 1 Timothy 2:5 says There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. The whole book of Hebrews in the NT is about how Jesus fulfills the role of high priest. He is our representative, serving in God’s presence. He lived a perfectly righteous life, which means as the priest, he never had to offer sacrifices or repent of his own sin. Like the lambs and bulls and goats offered every day on the altars of the temple, Jesus died on a Roman cross for sin that wasn’t his own. John the Baptist rightly called Jesus, “The Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.” He was the once and for all sacrifice who didn’t just cover sin, he removed it. And he rose again to prove the cross worked. There are no more sacrifices needed. Jesus was the sacrifice. 
  2. After his resurrection, he ascended back to heaven where he entered the holy, holy, holy place, the throne room of the Almighty, where he sits at the right hand of God the Father, still fully God and fully human…the man Jesus Christ, where he is right this second acting as our high priest as the mediator between God and humanity. No more priests are necessary to be the mediator between God and people. Jesus is the priest. 

Here’s why that should fire you up. It’s not fancy words or brilliant theology that makes God hear or answer your prayers. It’s not how long you pray or how many topics you can cover in one prayer. It’s not how long you’ve been a Christian, or how many missions trips you’ve been on that makes God sit up and listen. It’s not how big or spiritual your request is, or how much money or time you give away that gets God’s attention – what gets God’s attention off of the Crab Nebula and turned toward you when you pray is that his own dearly loved Son, God become man, is sitting next to him, with nail holes in his hands and feet as reminders that our sin is atoned for, who brings our requests to God. 

Jesus said in John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. It is only through the work of Jesus that our prayers are given any attention at all. God may choose to answer the prayer of an unbeliever out of his mercy and wanting them to be saved, but nowhere in the Bible has he promised to act on or respond to their prayers (Grudem, 378). 

  1. What kind of prayers will God hear and answer? 

In John 14, Jesus says, whatever you ask in my name, I will do it,  that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it. 

    1. God responds to prayers prayed in Jesus’ name. This is not the same thing as lying in your bed in the middle of the night praying:  “Father God, that neighbor’s dog just won’t stop barking. Would you just cause a limb to fall out of a tree just squarely right on top of that little yapper right now… In Jesus’ name.” There is not a single prayer in scripture that has the words “In Jesus’ name” at the end of it. Those aren’t magic words. To come to prayer “in Jesus’ name” means two things
      1. We come to God because of what Jesus has done. It could be helpful to begin a prayer sometime saying, “Lord, we don’t come to you in prayer today because you should listen to us, but because Jesus invited us to…”
      2. Secondly, in ancient culture, doing something “in a person’s name” was sort of like how we would use the word “reputation.” Praying in Jesus’ name means praying what he would pray. Asking for things he would ask for. What is consistent with the way Jesus lived his life and his purposes? 
    2. According to his will – 1 John 5:14-15 This is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”
      1. So what is God’s will? If those are the prayers he answers, what is his will? His will is that his word is obeyed and his commands are kept, that we are holy like he is holy. 
      2. The more we read scripture and become familiar with his word, the better we’ll become at praying, because we’ll know what kinds of things God is looking for in the world. 
        1. Wisdom: If anyone lacks wisdom let him ask… 
        2. Confession/Forgiveness: If you confess your sins… faithful and just to forgive; forgiving others who’ve sinned against you
        3. Courage to obey/Live rightly: Book of Acts
        4. Humility: Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you
      3. What if scripture doesn’t talk about it? New job, who to marry, what school to go to…
        1. Grant me a deeper understanding of this situation
        2. Change my heart
        3. I would ask for this, but if that’s not your will for me, do what you see fit.
  • Prayers he won’t answer

As long as God is God and we are not, there will be unanswered prayers (Grudem, 391). We don’t see things from God’s vantage, where he sees from eternity past to eternity future. We are not Providential, like he is. Even though he works all things together for good, we rarely see it that way. 

    1. So sometimes prayers go unanswered because God’s purpose and plan for what is ultimately good and best goes in a different direction. Doesn’t make our prayers sinful, it just means we are not God and we can’t see the future. He understands that, because he made us that way. 
      1. (Story of Joseph, prayed from the pit, God had other plans)
      2. The apostle Paul praying for physical healing, and God saying no (2 Cor 12:8-9
      3. Christians who are persecuted, tortured, beheaded for their faith no doubt pray that God would relieve them, and sometimes he says no (Rev 12:11). 
      4. Sometimes it’s just that his will goes in a different direction.
    2. Sometimes prayers go unanswered because we are asking for things selfishly. We just want our lives to be more comfortable, or smooth, or safe… we want the tree to drop on the neighbor’s dog because we want peace and quiet, and God is the vending machine who will give us the life we really want. (James 4:3) 
  • Sometimes God says “wait” - He may even answer our prayers after we are long gone. 
  1. When prayers go unanswered, it’s good for us to anchor ourselves in the God “who works all things together for his purpose” and trust him, knowing he cares for us. He’ll give us strength for each day, and has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Grudem, 392). 

Prayer in Heaven

Even though prayers may go unanswered here on earth, they are never in vain. Turn in your Bibles to Revelation 5. We’ll close with this. Last book of the Bible. Revelation 5 shows a stunning picture of the glories of heaven, something similar to Isaiah 6. The apostle John is allowed a glimpse of the glory of God like Isaiah was, and in 5:1, he sees someone sitting on a throne attended by heavenly creatures, just like Isaiah saw, and a giant scroll sealed seven times. No one was able to cut the seals to open the scroll. 

Then in verse 6, there is a slaughtered lamb standing in the throne room, surrounded by 24 elders, verse 8. These elders all have in their hands a harp and several golden bowls filled with incense, and that incense is the prayers of the saints. If you’ve ever had a diffuser in your home, or burned candles, or incense of some sort, you know this means prayer is the aroma of heaven. 

These saints are waiting for someone who can unleash the final chapter of the story of redemption, where the world is rid of sin and death and sorrow and evil. The Lamb, in verse 9, is the only one worthy of opening that final scroll because he was slaughtered and purchased people for God with his blood. 

In the next two chapters, the first 6 seals on the scroll are opened, and then over in chapter 8 of Revelation, as all of heaven stands waiting for the lamb to open that last seal that will unleash the end times, an angel reaches for that burning incense that is the prayers of all those who have trusted God and prayed for his kingdom to come, his will to be done. Millions of prayers, generation after generation, after generation. 

Author John Piper explains it like this: “...Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God. And the flame has been growing brighter and brighter and more and more pleasing in the presence of God. And the time will come when God will command his holy angel to take his mighty censer and fill it with fire from the altar where the prayers burn before the Lord, and pour it out on the world to bring all of God's great and holy purposes to completion. 

Which means that the consummation of history, the coming of the fully realized kingdom of heaven, will be [a direct result of the prayers] of the saints who cry to God day and night (Piper).


Prayer matters more than we can imagine. It’s more powerful than we can ever understand. It has more effect in God’s glorious plan for human history than we are aware of. 

So pray like your life depends on it. Pray like the kingdom of heaven depends on it. Pray like souls being saved depends on it. Pray like Jesus’ return depends on it. Because it does. 




John Starke, The Possibility of Prayer (Chicago, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020)

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994)

John Piper, The Prayers of the Saints and the End of the World https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-prayers-of-the-saints-and-the-end-of-the-world, January 4, 1994 (accessed July 1, 2022)